Political Encounters & Engagements: A Spotlight on Undergraduate Student Research

Sarah Leadem, Ethnic Studies; Son Chau, Ethnic Studies & American Studies; Sophia Wang, Sociology & Political Science; Maia Wolins, Middle Eastern Studies


Thu, Apr 5, 2012 - 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm


691 Barrows Hall


Join CRG for our annual forum on emerging research by UC Berkeley undergraduate student grant recipients.  Facilitated by Prof. Keith Feldman, Ethnic Studies

“AzNpRyDE”: Pan-Asianism and Youth Culture in an Age of Cyberspace
Son Chau, Ethnic Studies & American Studies

Throughout the ‘90s and early ‘2000s, the earlier days of the Internet served as an alternative space in which the first “digitized generation” of Asian Pacific American youths, predominantly pre-teen and teenagers, created, disseminated, and consumed a youth subculture popularly known as AzN PryDe (read: Asian Pride).  Pan-Asianism and pride in one’s respective ethnic identity were underlining themes in the aesthetics of this virtual renaissance of visual and musical production.  For those who took part or were aware of this “prolonged download of megabytes,” a home-recorded, widely-shared hip hop mp3 called Got Rice?—its verses militantly rhymed over the instrumental of the late 2Pac’s Changes (1998)— well characterizes the transnational and diasporic nature of Asian Pride.  This subculture, filled with numerous contradictions, promoted a reconnection to one’s roots while simultaneously offering an avenue toward assimilation. 

On and off school campuses, Asian Pride also contributed to compounding racial tensions and gang violence in the midst of de-industrialization, global restructuring, and the rise of information capitalism.  In this same period popularized by Black cultural politics and other identity politics enmeshed in hip hop like gangsta rap, Asian Pride precisely mirrors the ways in which Asian Pacific Americans sought a distinct identity between Black and white, the virtual world and the real world.  As young people are at the forefront of today’s techno-social upheavals, questions such as race, representation, nation, authenticity, and home are validly addressed on and off-line in a subculture like Asian Pride.    

The Changing Face of Labor: Immigrant Women, Domestic Work and Labor Unions in California in the 21st Century
Sarah Leadem, Ethnic Studies

The nannies, housecleaners, and direct-care attendants that comprise the domestic work sector labor in the shadows of the American economy. Domestic workers are majority working-class immigrant women and women of color that number nearly 2.5 million in the United States and 200,000 in California alone. Yet domestic workers have historically been excluded from protection under major federal and state labor laws and have often been deemed “unorganizable” by the traditional trade union movement. In the fall of 2010, a coalition of domestic worker organizations from across California, along with partners within major labor unions, launched a legislative campaign for the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to bring dignity, respect, and basic labor standards to domestic workers in California.


My research focuses on this campaign for the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights as a case study with which to examine the complex and evolving relationship between domestic worker organizing and traditional trade unionism. I take as my guiding question: What does the future of the U.S. labor movement look like and what will its relationship be to historically excluded workers and to domestic worker organizing as a social movement? My research engages a combined methodology that unifies critical engagement with existing scholarship and original interviews with organizers and workers from domestic worker organizations and labor unions throughout California. With this research, I seek to insert my voice into the existing academic and political discourse around the “new” labor movement and to critically analyze the potential future of a labor movement that unifies domestic worker labor organizing and formal labor unions. As domestic worker organizing coalesces into a powerful national social movement and the voices of working-class immigrant women and women of color demand an audience from the traditional U.S. labor movement, this research becomes ever more salient.

Civic and Political Engagement of Chinese Americans in Ethnic Suburbs
Sophia Wang
, Sociology & Political Science

This study seeks to understand Chinese American identity, community, and civic engagement in California through the emphasis of three factors: individual Chinese-American experiences, the suburban context, and non-electoral political expression. There are many different faces of Chinese Americans in California, and each perspective tells a unique story. My interviews reflect the diversity and complexity of Chinese-American experiences. Research subjects range from recent immigrants to American-born Chinese, elected officials, Taiwanese, Cantonese, and more, but what they share in common is that they are all suburban residents. Past generations of Chinese Americans congregated in urban Chinatowns, but recently more and more Chinese are choosing to live in the suburbs. Many of these suburban neighborhoods are so concentrated with Chinese or Asians that they are ethnic suburbs. Through my research and interviews, I want to understand how the suburban context influences the way Chinese Americans perceive and interact with each other. Finally, this project seeks to highlight the salience of non-electoral political participation. Voter registration and turnout rates are the easiest and more commonly measured representations of political participation, but it only provides a limited view of civic behavior and interest. Non-electoral forms of civic engagement and community involvement are just as significant and are fundamental to societal integration. In-depth interviews, instead of surveys, will allow me to better understand Chinese Americans' motivations for being involved and methods for expressing their values within their community. Ultimately, I hope my research will help to mobilize Chinese Americans and better represent their interests for the future. 

Iraqi Refugees, Islamophobia, and "Mexicanization"
Maia Wolins, 
Middle Eastern Studies

Significant numbers of Iraqi refugees and American Iraq veterans have resettled in California after the 2003 war. My thesis is an ethnographic study of the war's effects on American veterans as they develop their professional careers, as well as the influence of the war on Iraqi refugees in the United States who seek to reestablish themselves as professionals. This paper focuses on how racial relations influence the professionalization of Iraqi refugees living, working, and studying in California. I adapt Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of symbolic capital and symbolic violence to consider how a gendered Islamophobia operates in a preexisting field of "Mexican" racialization. Symbolic capital is the accumulation of status-based resources in a field of power relations, whereas symbolic violence is the misrecognition and assumptions exerted upon another through embodied politics of social agency. Since Iraqi refugees in the U.S. are uniquely situated to gain professional symbolic capital that translates into economic wealth, my findings suggest that these refugees are able to challenge gendered Islamophobia. Still, their professional development is limited by the symbolic violence of racial stereotyping that, ironically, has little to do with Iraq or the War.